From the earliest moments of your career, you have worked hard to expand your skills, honed your leadership abilities and taken on stretch projects where you have increased your contribution. But if others don’t know about your progress, it can be a little like the tree falling in the forest. Leaders and key influencers need to know what you have accomplished and how you have grown so they know to tap you for even greater contribution. Knowing your value and how to communicate it to others is a critical skill for career advancement.
In a new report from McKinsey & Company on Closing the Gap
, female senior executives in the financial services sector share success secrets that apply to women in all industries. One of their top tips is to know and be able to communicate your own value.
A healthy and positive sense of self-worth is an important attribute not only in your personal life, but it can help set you up for success at work as well. A strong sense of self-worth enables you to feel comfortable in your own skin, respect your strengths while being willing to address areas for development, trust your own abilities and judgment and even celebrate the strengths and achievements of others.
With a strong sense of self-worth, you have the confidence to take risks and know you can recover from setbacks. You are willing to make difficult decisions, objectively evaluate your performance, make use of constructive feedback and build meaningful relationships with colleagues and supervisors.
Conflicting messages for women
Even if you have done the work to build a strong sense of self, the workplace can create particular challenges for women who want to shine the spotlight on the value they bring to the organization.
Researchers from Stanford University and New York University refer to a three-pronged conundrum where being visible at work is key to advancement, women’s contributions are often overlooked, and that women who strive to make themselves more visible can face backlash for violating gender expectations.
The research team embedded themselves with a women’s professional development program where they conducted 86 in-depth interviews with participants, observed 36 discussion groups and sat in on 15 program-wide meetings. They learned that the women participants were highly aware of both the rewards and risks of increasing their visibility. Many reported intentionally employing a strategy of getting things done under the radar to avoid being penalized for acting assertively and with authority.
Necessary organization change
It can be unfair to ask women to step forward if their workplace culture is likely to label them as over-reaching or with that famous slur too often applied to women in charge. The Stanford researchers urge organizations to value and reward a more diverse array of leadership styles that enable women to step into the spotlight without being forced to mimic masculine norms.
They also call on organizations to adopt more gender-neutral values and to require managers to provide concrete examples of skills and accomplishments in performance evaluations and when considering someone for advancement. Words like “pushy,” “rude,” or “demanding” should serve as red flags that bias may be skewing an assessment of a woman’s performance.
What women can do
Of course, women know not to wait until the world catches up with them. Right now, they can advocate for themselves and their females reports and colleagues while lobbying for more systemic change.
The American Management Association has these suggestions for demonstrating your value.
- Focus on activities that use your skills and time most effectively to connect to the organization’s bottom line.
- Remembering that time is money, invest yours wisely and decrease time spent in lower payoff activities.
- Provide succinct updates to your boss that highlight strong achievements without overdoing it.
- Deepen your understanding of your company by digging into the financials, org chart and reporting structures (you can start with digesting the annual report).
- Do your homework. When you pitch an innovative idea, think through the downsides and prepare to answer tough questions.
- Continue to build personal relationships so you have a network of people to speak on your behalf or to problem-solve together.
- Have the courage to set boundaries. The activities and relationships you pursue outside of work will not only make life more enjoyable, but are even likely to provide energy and insights that help you do your job better.
Author of Know Your Value
and MSNBC Morning Joe Co-host, Mika Brzezinski, adds, “We think our work will just be noticed. Nobody is going to notice. You have to say it.” She urges women to advocate for themselves based on facts, focus on their inner purpose, learn how to hit reset and move on after mistakes and embrace the power of pauses rather than filling the airspace with excessive justification and explanation.
Although stepping into the spotlight can feel uncomfortable at first, the more women practice effective techniques for sharing their contributions, the more natural it will become to do it — and for others to see and accept it.